Kanada-Ya Ramen Bar

I’m a relatively new convert to Ramen, the Japanese noodle soup dish so popular around London and the UK these days. Full disclosure – I am far from expert in this arena, so take anything I say with a pinch of salt, and as the words of a layman.

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Anyway, amongst the few places I’d tried, I have been to Bone Daddies probably half a dozen times, and become somewhat of an evangelist for their Spicy Seafood Ramen, but was then informed by a friend a few months ago that I was missing the real deal – Kanada-Ya. A little digging revealed that many consider this to be the best Ramen spot in London, and so off I trotted to investigate. I was greeted with a small place on a corner near Tottenham Court Road (they’ve also just launched a site near Haymarket, and have others in Japan, Hong Kong & the USA), a bit of a queue outside in the chilly winter night, and a locked front door. The guy handling the queue was great though, and people were allowed to hold spots for friends arriving later, with other groups going in ahead as suitable, which made for a stress-free wait (some places insist that people can’t join friends in the queue, which to me seems needlessly harsh if someone is running late but the others are there).

We were ushered in after maybe 10 minutes, and seated in between various people at a bench right in the middle of the small, busy, very bright room. The menu is pretty simple, and I elected to go for the original ramen with Ma-yu (charred black garlic sauce).

 

When it arrived it was presented very neatly and prettily, if looking far from spectacular by comparison to the bowls I’ve had at Bone Daddies. And even with the garlic sauce, and adding in a few pickles supplied free at the table, I found the meal to be slightly underwhelming compared to what I had begun to consider as “correct”. Initially, I felt a little disappointment, but as I proceeded through my bowl, and adjusted my sights, there was a tangible point at which I was genuinely excited about the next mouthful, the broth having a wonderfully rich fattiness to it (reading that back that doesn’t make it sound appealing, but trust me it’s lovely) , and a remarkable savoury umami characteristic, very delicate at first but incredibly more-ish by the end, and with the pork slices providing the perfect centre-piece to the dish, falling apart deliciously in the mouth, almost like a warm cured ham in its texture.

After my first mouthfuls I had really expected to be slightly unhappy about the meal, by the end I was certain I’d be back, which was a strange (and at the rate I eat, rapid) shift in perceptions. Don’t go expecting big, bold flavours from this dish – but what it does, it does brilliantly. The seaweed was a bit of an anti-climax – to my palate it didn’t really add a whole lot to the experience, even from a textural stand-point as it was more rice-paper than krispbread, and I didn’t get anything much happening to my tastebuds.

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So all in all, I have to say that this was a thoroughly enjoyable meal despite my initial reservations, and one I hope to repeat again to try a few variations on the theme. I’m giving scores to my meals, but I may well be back in the future to add an addendum to this article, as I feel like this score may well shoot upwards now I’ve acclimatised my tastebuds and expectations to the different style of Ramen on offer at Kanada-Ya.

8/10

 

Mixtape Monday, Vol 8

LTJ Bukem – Fantazia Takes You Into The Jungle

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Incredibly, after all these years I still have the CD triple pack!

I’ve been DJing for nearly 20 years now, and making a living from it for around 14. But what an awful lot of people don’t know is that for the first few years of that, I was obsessively, almost exclusively, a drum & bass and jungle DJ. My first track that I ever played out (and not as Santero, I was called DJ Blaze at that point in time!) was this little thing from DJ Red, at a friend’s birthday party at The Market Bar in Nottingham…

I’d been the guitarist and singer in a Pixies-esque band through my late teens, but when I started raving in earnest while at university I soon sold my guitars and bought a pair of Technics, and started hoovering up all the 12″s I could afford from Selectadisc. I think that the energy and power of D&B and Jungle appealed to me the same way as the music of punk acts like Hüsker Dü and Fugazi had, so it’s not the giant leap that it might seem to some, and indeed, I’ve often been struck by just how many people in dance music around the world have a background in punk and hardcore scenes – I would guess that the DIY attitude that they share is a big aspect in why so many were able to make that move from one to another, just embracing the new challenge and finding a way to make it work. Given the explosion in popularity in dance music in recent years, and the way it has been corporatised  in the more popular areas, I’m not sure if it’s as open to this mentality, but there are still people out there making their own waves, and long may they thrive.

Anyway, to the Mixtape Monday offering this week. LTJ Bukem is probably best known for his Logical Progression mix series that popularised Intelligent/Liquid Drum & Bass, and his label Good Looking Records. But this mix capture him before he’d fully gone down that road, and still has the raw energy and vitality of the early hardcore and ragga jungle sounds of the early 1990s, brilliantly marrying the intricate percussion and frenetic pace of this era with a more melodic, atmospheric and nuanced sound than most of his peers were capable of summoning. While I can imagine some who are unfamiliar with the pace of D&B will find it hectic, I tend to find myself periodically swaying to the half-beat with this mix, the 2nd in a 3 CD collection from legendary rave promoters Fantazia, with DJ Rap and Grooverider the other contributors. DJ Rap’s mix is also a cracker, while I never really got on with the Grooverider one, even though I was a huge fan of his for the Prototype Years era a few years on. The flow of Bukem’s mix is superb, and listening back to it here in 2016, while this is obviously of its era, it really does stand up as a superb selection of music more than 2 decades after it was put together, when so much from the early years of rave culture sounds horribly dated now. Listen, and enjoy a true master of his craft.

Plastic Free Lent – A Qualified Success

And so here we are, pretty much at the end of Lent. My attempt at going plastic free for this period? A [very] qualified success. I’ve certainly used a lot less plastic than if I had not taken on this challenge. Have I come near to going plastic free? Not on your nelly. Have I managed to only purchase and use plastic when absolutely necessary? About that…

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Cucumbers – always shrinkwrapped. Courgettes – never shrinkwrapped.

 

As I’ve written here and here, on a whim I accepted a friend’s challenge to try and give up plastic for Lent. What I’ve learnt is that plastic is everywhere. And often in places where it’s impossible to know until after you’ve purchased, got home and used an item. If you don’t plan ahead, living plastic-free on-the-go is remarkably difficult, even in a city like London.

One thing that I’d never really paid attention to is the prevalence of plastic as a lining inside canned food. There are perfectly reasonable health and safety reasons for this, as there are often issues with food being kept in opened tins in the fridge. But the problem here is that so few items actually list what material they are made of, and whether those materials can be recycled or not.

Here’s a couple of laudable examples that I stumbled across in Iceland in my desperation to find hangover-friendly food that was plastic-free.

But on the whole, good luck trying to work out what your packaging contains. This seems like one of the more achievable goals that could be aimed for in the no-doubt long and winding road towards sustainability – if it’s impossible to make informed choices, how can consumers vote with their wallets effectively?

My experience in this month or so has been pretty straightforward. 95% of produce is off-limits if I am staying true to my goal of avoiding plastic. Food preparation for extended periods away from home is utterly essential. As the month wore on, I got lazier and lazier – in part, just bored of the mundanity of it, in part a reaction to various brutal hangovers that made that kind of brainwork entirely unappealing. My diet became a lot less varied, as numerous staples were suddenly off-limits. The convenience of pre-packed salads and stir fry veg was sorely missed. Nuts and seeds too. I probably broke the record for the most cans of baked beans eaten in a single month, and shares in sweet potatoes are presumably 20-30% more valuable now too. I’ve got in the habit of having a tote bag stuffed in a pocket for those impromptu trips to the shops on the way home that would previously have necessitated a plastic bag.

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The very rare “non-plastic produce tub”

The packed lunches I’d made for trips to gigs away from London were actually extremely tasty, and far healthier than anything I would have bought on the road, certainly much, much cheaper than eating out for every meal, and slightly cheaper than buying sandwiches etc from random shops. Space was an issue – suddenly I needed 2 bags for a weekend away instead of one. And, ridiculous though this is, I felt very self-conscious cracking open a tupperware container filled with my lunch on the train – I’m sure that this isn’t an uncommon response, as we’ve all become so conditioned to buying convenience foods in disposable packaging. Even though I logically knew that what I was doing was entirely fine, I felt like a dork doing it. Maybe that’s just me, but the lack of other people ever doing similar suggests I’m not alone.

In my desperation to get away from the same old food after a couple of weeks, I took chances on some things which were genuinely horrendous, solely because they appeared to be in plastic-free packaging – this one in particular stands out. I implore everybody to avoid this absolute abomination. You’ll note the somewhat misleading example on the front… [Dis] Honorable mention goes to Quorn’s “Gammon” steak monstrosities, easily the worst meat-substitute product that I’ve ever had the misfortune to eat. Seriously, they’re disgusting.

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“Cheese”

I was able to find a lot of plastic-free produce at good old Borough Market, although I’m not convinced that I have pockets deep enough to afford that to become my regular greengrocer or cheese-dealer. And even there, cucumbers were, of course, shrink-wrapped. Apart from baby cucumbers, which are never shrink-wrapped. I’d love to find out what committee it is that makes these decisions, because they appear to be set in stone.

I was actually never really tested on a lot of items that would probably have proven most problematic, as a direct result of my fondness for 2-for-1 hoarding when I go to the shops – I didn’t run out of deodorant, toothpaste, shower gel, fairy liquid, washing tablets… you get the point I’m sure. I’m told that Lush do soaps and deodorants that come in non-plastic packaging, but I never had the need to find out myself, and the only Lush I know of is in the Westfield in Stratford, which I only venture into when things are truly desperate.

I did stumble into a solution for one issue when looking for some wooden clothes hangers – I’d run out of kitchen roll, and as a regular wok user they are kind of essential for keeping a steel pan properly seasoned. The shop I went into had a massive roll without it being shrink-wrapped, no idea if this is a normal occurrence, but its the first time I’ve ever seen it sold without plastic wrapping.

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Handy

And at a gig at Shoreditch House I spotted this as I grabbed some treats from the sweety shelves – Edenware compostable cups. This is the kind of thing that needs to be supported as much as possible by retailers and consumers if we are to tackle this issue effectively.

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So where do I go from here? Certainly, I will be much more aware of the issue going forward, and much more careful about the packaging of the food I buy. Away from food (which is already problematic in many cases), things are far more difficult – the tyranny of plastic packaging is such that it’s incredibly inconvenient to avoid it, to the point of basically being impossible for your average person on an average budget.

How can we tackle the issue? Its hard to say – I think the labelling on packaging should be required to say exactly what is in it, and whether it is recyclable. One approach could be a small tax on plastic packaging, with the proceeds used to go towards cleaning up the mess plastic causes, but in truth that doesn’t really fix the problem per se, although it would hopefully encourage the use of more biodegradable substances for packaging. I’d love to hear your suggestions for potential ideas to move this forward – this is an issue that appears to be at the beginnings of a public groundswell, people realise that the status quo is unsustainable, but don’t really know how to be helpful as the options are so limited and disparate. For real change to be effected, there probably needs to be a focused effort to change very specific things that will have real-world, practical impacts. Its likely that this might (at least in the short-term) mean small price increases or less convenience, which is never a popular thing to push for – but the alternative is we keep polluting the planet with a substance that will still be here causing problems long, long after humans have disappeared from the face of the earth.

Here’s some links that you may find interesting related to this topic

Splosh – refillable cleaning products

New York woman attempts to live without producing waste

The Anti-Packaging Movement

Detroit Zoo stops selling bottled water

The sustainability subreddit

Mixtape Monday, Vol 7

Heavy Warmup Vol 5 : DJ 7L

After last week’s trip down a distinctly non-dancey alleyway, here we make our way back to the club, with Boston’s DJ 7L, a guy I was familiar with through his work as half of DJ 7L & Esoteric back in my days as a straight up hip hop DJ. This is a recording from a hotel gig, and is a lovely balance of familiar melodies and beats, curveballs, instrumentals, blends and so on. Just a good DJ mixing good music, as it should be. It’s a superb mix, perfect for getting the juices flowing, just as a good warm-up should!

It’s been put out there as part of T&A‘s Heavy Warmup series, which I highly recommend, and the T&A guys (particularly DJ Ayres y’all) are very much part of the legendary The Rub crew – their history of hip hop mixes are absolutely essential listening.

Perfect Tens

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I’m a confirmed Reddit addict. That’s not unusual these days, and a lot of people across on Facebook are without even realising, as they share videos and memes that appeared the week before on the internet’s biggest single driver of traffic, usually ripped and repackaged by the likes of Unilad, with the equation following an as-yet gnome-esque (to me anyway) business plan of Step 1 – steal memes and videos, Step 2 – ?, Step 3 – profit.

Well, anyone can set up a subreddit, and I decided to set up one – r/PerfectTens. It’s essentially a home for absolute stone-cold classic music, of any style or genre. I enjoy putting things up there (all too infrequently mind you), and checking out what other people have posted as well.

For those of you unfamiliar with Reddit, users can upvote or downvote content, with the more upvoted things moving up what is essentially a time-sensitive league table, before falling away to be replaced by newer content. Please feel free to join up, subscribe to my subreddit, and pass judgement on the music (and post your own favourites too!)

So, without further ado I bring you the top 5 tracks from Perfect Tens!

Mixtape Monday, Vol 6

The Best of Elliot Smith (arranged by Neoteric)

This week’s Mixtape Monday is a little different to your average mix. For a start, you probably noticed in the title that Neoteric describes it as “arranged” by him. And that’s a nice way to look at the art of the DJ in truth. With this material, it’s not beat driven and so any attempt to do a conventional DJ mix would have to compromise itself by the nature of tempo, beat-matching, time-signatures and so on. By eschewing the tyranny of beatmatching culture (and in all seriousness, lots of DJs think that if you aren’t beatmatching then you aren’t really DJing, which to me is an ignorant and absurd point of view), Neoteric is able to create a wonderful sense of mood and movement throughout this mix, often getting from A to B via little snippets of TV shows, interviews and live performance ad libs.

I’ve long been a fan of Neoteric’s output, as a DJ, producer and label boss (he runs Main Course), and it was a pleasure to hang with him at the world Red Bull Thre3style final I competed in back in 2010 in Paris. Elliot Smith on the other hand, I’d been recommended him many time by my brother, but had pretty much ruled him out due to a lifelong antipathy towards folk-type music, which is the pigeonhole Smith appeared to occupy.

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So when Neoteric put out this mix, I was intrigued to say the least. And many years later, I would have to say that this might well be the DJ mix I’ve listened to more than any other, showcasing superb song-writing and Smith’s distinctively vulnerable vocal style and lovely multitracked vocal harmonies. To my shame, I’m still yet to explore Smith’s back catalogue as I keep saying I should. The life of a DJ, perversely perhaps, leaves relatively little time for “leisure-time” music – that is, music that is never going to have anything to do with what I play in venues. But off the back of this mix, I would absolutely describe myself as a fan, and I have no hesitation in recommending it as my latest Mixtape Monday.